Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Very Cautious Down South

We in Yankeeland can lose touch with the often harder struggles for marriage equality elsewhere. As an erstwhile resident, I'll watch today's South Carolina vote on a DOMA-style amendment with foreboding.

The effort there has been polite and even deferential, at least by Massachusetts standards. They fight a much harder culture. In contrast to our style, "South Carolina politicians and advocacy groups on both sides prefer to keep the discussion to a whisper in campaigns that operate under the radar," according to the Beaufort Gazette.

Meanwhile, what passes for a liberal newspaper there -- and the largest paper --The State, heartily endorses the anti-same-sex-marriage amendment. The editors' column tortures logic and intent in the most bizarre ways to reach this conclusion. We suspect that its finding will be fine, just fine with most of its readers.

As a sidelight, in general, Southerners care more about public opinion and do pay attention to such alleged think pieces. We suspect this will pass but that eventually South Carolinians will come around, in a decade or two. When their friends, neighbors and newspapers begin favoring or at least accepting SSM, they will too. In many ways, their society is more integrated than Boston's for much the same cultural drive.

Meanwhile, The State, or The Snake as many of us in journalism school used to call it, is not ready for sharing rights with same-sex couples. Its endorsement includes:
  • A yes for prophylaxis against rogue judges -- they haven't seen 'em, but just in case.
  • A yes even though they have a DOMA-style law "to prevent a state judge from attempting such a breathtaking leap of judicial activism."
  • A yes to keep out-of-state legally married homosexual couples from causing trouble -- "make it clear that other jurisdictions can't force their definitions on our state." (Those who pretend this is not a civil-rights issue or not parallel to miscegenation laws need to pay attention to what locals say and write.)
  • A yes even though "(w)hile a majority of our editorial board opposes the idea of society sanctioning homosexual unions, no one on the board advocates changing our constitution to address this issue."
  • So these upstanding lovers of constitutional law say do it anyway. It would be "irresponsible to advocate any action unless we’re comfortable with what would happen if our position prevailed, and we find the pragmatic consequences of a 'no' vote unacceptable: South Carolina would become a magnet for national groups working to redefine marriage — much as we became a magnet for efforts to undermine our public schools when we elected a pro-voucher governor."
The editors fantasize that writing discrimination into the constitution will "take this issue off the political agenda...or at least move it to the back burner."

Surprisingly enough, this passionate issue is simmering in near secret already. Pro and anti-SSM sides are not shouting or bullying as they have been in Michigan, Colorado, or even in Massachusetts.

As the Gazette article puts it, "the opposition has been discreet" and for the yes folk "(m)ost of the campaigning has been done out of the mainstream media." Beaufort is not the most conservative section of the state, even with its Marine air base and the Parris Island training facility, which spill over also into government as many former Marines are hired or elected. Yet, even here, the local politicians are not raising the issue, but leaving it for house-to-house and church-to-church conversations.

Stereotypically, the no forces here pivot on the local 50-member Unitarian Universalist church. There, the minister, Nan White, has worked with the South Carolina Equality Coalition. They have hosted house parties and shown equality videos. They bought a single ad in the Gazette.

White, who has a female partner, said, "It'd be wonderful if this amendment were defeated. But out of my own sense, we're greatly outnumbered in a conservative (community) religiously and politically. There is a lot of closed-mindedness, and that seems to be part of this state."

The coalition raised a mere $18,000 against the amendment. That bought a few TV and radio ads in the few big cities, plus its Web presence, Net ads and even some road signs. (We're betting those were vandalized.)

The nasty amendment would also try to prevent any civil unions or domestic partnerships. By implication, its forbidding of state sanctions for anything remotely resembling those would act to discourage companies from adding benefits for same-sex couples. The amendment reads:
A marriage between one man and one woman is the only lawful domestic union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This State and its political subdivisions shall not create a legal status, right or claim respecting any other domestic union, however denominated. This State and its political subdivisions shall not recognize or give effect to a legal status, right or claim created by another jurisdiction respecting any other domestic union, however denominated. Nothing in this section shall impair any right or benefit extended by the State or its political subdivisions other than a right or benefit arising from a domestic union that is not valid or recognized in this State. This section shall not prohibit or limit parties, other than the State or its political subdivisions, from entering into contracts or other legal instruments.
It falls clearly in the kick-the-queers class, far beyond DOMA.

Not surprisingly, many fundamentalist preachers support it. The Gazette quotes local Carl Broggi of the 2,000-member Community Bible Church. He says he has been working behind the scenes, because "we didn't want our opponents to know" what they were up to. His view lacks subtlety and is very Old Testament, before Jesus' love and acceptance messages. As Broggi puts it, "It's an issue of conscience. Homosexuality is a perversion of God's way."

The UU church's White, on the other hand, doubts her no side will win. However, she adds, "This issue will not be done and over with next Tuesday."

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